The Castle

The+Castle

The castle rests on the peak of a gently sloping hill, surveying the expansive world below it. At times, it has rivaled all other castles, but it has always paled in comparison to the grandeur of the world that stretches as far as the eyes can see beyond its many windows. 

Once, its walls held in the cries of an anguished young soul who watched the world as an impatient bystander. Once, it housed the rambunctious spirit of an anxious and excitable child; it bore the marks of smudged fingerprints on the panes of glass. 

It used to be that if you looked hard enough, you could still find the small footprints in the luminescent dust. If you wandered far enough, you could see the details of every story and every adventure that took place within the castle walls. 

Now, there’s not much of anything left of what used to be. 

She always thought the castle walls were too confining. The windows were her savior, her refuge, her relief. They provided a glimpse of the world she might someday be strong enough, smart enough, good enough—simply enough—to join. She could’ve spent all day at those windows, consumed in the infinite permutations of life’s possibilities.

The passing of time, signified by the stunning sunrises and sunsets that painted themselves across the sky outside the windows, gave her the courage to venture beyond the castle walls. With her valiant steps, she created a shimmering path to the world below. But inevitably, she would return to the castle at the end of the day. Whether it was obligation, fear, or her diminishing self-worth, something kept her dependent on those castle walls. 

One day, she escaped them altogether. With those walls gone, no longer waiting for her to fall back on, her soul shone through. She was nobody but herself, a radiant angel who knew who she was and who she wanted to be. She was brave. She was inspired.

She was enough. 

And she’s not so sure now. In fact, she’s not even sure where she is, let alone who she is. 

Everything around her is dark. It hasn’t always been like this; she knows that. But, she also knows she didn’t just wake up here. 

Maybe she was always meant to end up here, in this thick and suffocating darkness. It’s been steadily creeping up on her, bit by bit, so she never noticed. And now there’s no light, only darkness. 

She was enough. And she’s not so sure now. In fact, she’s not even sure where she is, let alone who she is. ”

She can’t see anything, but there’s something familiar in the air. She takes one step forward, and it hurts, but she forces herself forward anyway. Her eyes begin to adjust to the darkness, and it scares her because it means she’s been here for too long. 

She’s in the castle. She sees it now, and she doesn’t know how she could possibly be here right now. The realization brings her to her knees. Her whole body shakes; it aches and retches and can barely hold itself together. 

She should have known that she hadn’t really escaped the castle. She should have known she would be back here, and it hurts more than anything ever has before. It’s different than it was; the castle isn’t the same anymore. She doesn’t desire to be trapped within any version of it, but she can say with certainty that this version is the worst. 

Help, help, help, her heartbeat calls.

Why, why, why, her sobs cry out. 

She’s curled on the floor, unable to force her legs upward. Would it matter anyway? Where would she go? She sees no way out this time. The darkness extends in every direction: thick, inky, impenetrable.

Her hand reaches out, grasping for the wall. As her fingertips brush against the stones, she feels their familiarity. But there used to be a window here. She’s sure of it. Where did it go? 

No longer can she even see the world. And, if she can’t see the world, what does it matter? Every fractured piece of her essence holds her down with the force of gravity, but a small voice interrupts it all. She follows the voice to her feet and down the hall, each step more painful than the last. 

Her heart thumps in the same pattern once again. Help, help, help.

Every step forward is a step backward—a step back into what she’d so longed to leave. The darkness swallows her whole, seeping into her skin, into her very being. 

What else could she do but keep walking? Keep pressing forward? Nothing.

Her hands find the door to the library, and she pushes them open, an all too familiar movement. The shelves line the walls, floor to ceiling. A million and one books she’d always wanted to read. They used to call her name, beckon her towards them, implore her to read them.

Now, even when she trails her fingers across the spines, they remain silent. They don’t even know who she is anymore. 

She doesn’t even know who she is anymore.

The barrage of memories pins her down. Moving images in her mind depict everything that used to be. She wants to escape. She needs to escape. 

Her feet carry her away, away, away. She can’t run away from her own mind. She knows that. But, maybe if she runs fast enough she’ll find something that’s like it used to be. 

But every room is different, every hall erased of the memories that used to be engraved in the walls. The castle is not the same, and there’s no way out. 

The world spins, a disorienting whirlwind of bewilderment. She’s crying again, convulsing sobs. She’s so lost. She’s being destroyed from the inside out. She feels wrong, so wrong. 

She needs to find something that is still the same. This prison is so much worse than the old one. She never thought she’d be longing to go back, but anything is better than this storm of thundering darkness. 

Nothing is the same now. She left the castle, and in her absence, it crumbled.”

Every part of her aches, but she keeps running, convincing herself she’ll find something that is the same—something that tells her who she is. 

But it’s all in vain. Nothing is the same now. She left the castle, and in her absence, it crumbled. It became something she is no longer familiar with. It became a place whose doors and secret passages are hidden to her eyes. And no matter how much she keeps running, she will not find anything that is the same. 

Her sobs echo through the halls. Her arms wrap around her aching stomach. Her head throbs, and she can barely breathe. Nausea overtakes her. She knows this isn’t forever, but it’s impossible to see anything but the shadowy hall ahead.

She turns a sharp corner, and there it is: an ornate mirror with an elaborate gold frame. She remembers this mirror. As a little girl, she would look into it and see everything she hoped to one day become. It was a mirror of dreams—of her deepest desires.

Now, she doesn’t even recognize the person staring back at her. Puffy, bloodshot eyes. Swollen, tear-stained cheeks. A torn and ruined dress. She can’t hold back the flood of tears that spill down her face in torrents. This isn’t her. Whoever she really is is hidden behind a veil of pain that she can’t manage to pull back. 

“Who am I?” she sobs, wrapping her arms around herself even more tightly. 

The unfamiliar face stares back ruthlessly, apathetically watching her deteriorate. Its answer reverberates through the halls as her fraying soul collapses, and she falls to the ground, the sobs racking her body. 

“I don’t know. Who are you?”